Author: Sandy Smith


The Driver Safety Challenge in an Era of Advanced Driver-Assist Systems

When he’s off the clock, John Doyle, senior health and safety adviser at Florida Power & Light, drives a Ford Explorer as his personal vehicle. The SUV is equipped with a backup camera that audibly alerts him when he gets too close to an object.

When Doyle sometimes drives his wife’s car – which has a backup camera but no audible alerts – he still finds himself “waiting for the backup camera to tell me to slow down.”

Doyle’s experience provides a good example of an issue utility fleet drivers across the country are facing these days. They may have all sorts of tools and options on their personal vehicles that aren’t available on their work vehicles, which can potentially lead to a habit of relying on the tools and options – even when they’re not there. 

“People are gravitating towards using the technology to support the way they drive,” said Art Liggio, president and CEO of driver training company Driving Dynamics ( “We see people come into our training programs who are looking at the backup camera monitor instead of the mirrors. If the monitor hesitates, they freeze. They don’t know what to do.”

Recent statistics back up the idea that the wealth of technology and safety features in today’s newer vehicles isn’t lowering accident rates. In 2016, 37,461 people died on U.S. highways, while 2015 saw the biggest jump in accident deaths in 50 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (

It is, in fact, human error that is the cause of 94 percent of accidents, according to NHTSA data. In 2015, when the data was released, NHTSA administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind noted that the solution to reducing traffic deaths is a combination of improved human behavior and vehicle technology.

Liggio said there are plenty of other reasons for the higher rate of crashes, including poor infrastructure, longer commutes and driver distractions.

But Doyle needs to look no further than his own experience to say that perhaps we’re relying too heavily on technology to overcome poor driving habits – or, in some cases, allowing technology to cause them.

In a previous role at Florida Power & Light, he recalled that when backup cameras were installed on all the fleet vehicles, accidents dropped significantly – for the first year. “After that year, people became complacent with that technology and we started hitting things,” Doyle said.

He suggested that drivers be taught to “trust but verify. These vehicle technologies are computers after all, and we know that they do malfunction.”

Doyle noted that sometimes sensors can become covered with mud or dirt, affecting performance. He believes that training should be utilized to enhance the use of any technology and, for example, to teach drivers not to rely on backup cameras. They must remember to check the vehicle’s mirrors, too.

Even if a vehicle’s technology is working correctly, Liggio said, inadequate training on that technology often leaves the driver unprepared for the vehicle to take over. “When the car starts intervening, the driver jumps in and they’re fighting each other over what to do. Drivers get so focused on what the car is doing automatically that they stop focusing on their situational issues, and the incident occurs.”

He has noticed that, as fleet customers “load up their vehicles with the highest level of technologies,” often they experience slight increases in crash rates. “Is it risk compensation, or that the driver doesn’t know how to interact with the technology?”

Again, training can help overcome those issues. But ultimately, drivers must come to understand that the technology is there as a tool to heighten vehicle and driver safety – it will not prevent 100 percent of accidents.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


Future Vehicle Safety Features
Over the next few years, more and more safety features will be added to new vehicles. Here is what to expect. 

Mandated Features

  • Backup cameras. By May 2018, all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds will include a backup camera that shows a 10-foot-by-20-foot zone behind the vehicle.
  • Automatic emergency brakes. In 2016, 20 automakers – virtually the entire U.S. market – joined the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in announcing a pact to include these brakes in vehicles. This voluntary effort allows the new technology to become standard well before any regulatory requirement would mandate it. It is expected to be standard by 2022.

Gaining Adoption
These safety features are not mandatory, but they do factor into the NHTSA’s five-star safety ratings and are becoming increasingly available on vehicles.

  • Forward collision warning systems warn drivers if they get too close to the vehicle in front of them.
  • Lane assist, or a lane departure warning system, uses cameras to monitor lane markings and alert the driver when he or she is drifting out of a lane.
  • Blind-spot detection lets drivers know when another vehicle is in their blind spot.
  • Automatic crash notifications notify emergency responders that a crash has occurred and provides a location.
  • While vehicle-to-vehicle communication is not yet mandatory, it is on the NHTSA’s most-wanted list. This, according to the NHTSA, would mitigate 70 to 80 percent of accidents not involving an impaired driver.

What’s Your Fleet’s Plan to Prepare for Winter Weather?

In some parts of the country, the leaves are already changing color and there’s a nip in the air. Fall is here and winter is not far behind, which means time is slipping away for utility fleet managers to winterize their fleet assets before truly cold weather sets in.

Forgive Tom Jansen, superintendent of fleet maintenance for Minnesota Power, for being nonchalant about the impending weather. Despite the harsh winter conditions in Minnesota – home of four of the country’s 15 coldest cities, according to USA Today Jansen’s fleet is prepared for whatever Mother Nature might throw at it. Cold? Bring it. Ice? Ready. Winter Storm Colbert, which The Weather Channel announced would be the third named storm of the coming season? He laughs.

For Jansen’s 600-unit fleet – which includes Class 3-8, off-road and mobile assets – winterizing isn’t contained to a few months of the year. “While there are activities performed just prior to winter to help the fleet stay operating effectively, we’ve found success with focusing on a good year-round preventive maintenance program, purchasing practices and operator training,” he said.

That means using oils and lubricants that are effective throughout the year, installing solar battery chargers on all new trailers and off-road equipment, and ensuring that equipment purchased has block heaters and battery disconnects. The result: a reduced winter preparation workload.

This type of preventive maintenance is a good practice for any utility fleet. According to Don Scare, senior consultant, commercial truck solutions for Element Fleet Management (, “Preventive maintenance covers a lot of the general checks that you do throughout the year, like batteries and belts.”

Meeting Seasonal Demands
Still, there are maintenance tasks that only make sense in the winter months. Scare and Jansen offer the following tips to help utilities ready their fleets to meet the demands of the season.

Diesel engines take more prep. All the diesel engines in Jansen’s fleet receive additives to help with winter weather, while some Minnesota Power service centers in the northernmost part of the state switch to a different type of diesel, a winter blend called #1 or 1-D. Scare said this also is a good time to “make sure that fuel tanks are clean of any condensation and water so that sumps in the bottom of the tanks are clean.” In addition, remind drivers to keep tanks full. “Condensation can build up with extreme up and down temperatures, and water freezes up,” Scare added.

Speaking of water, be sure to check equipment such as aerial devices and generators to ensure there is no water in the reservoir tanks or hydraulic oil tanks, Scare said. This also is an appropriate time to make sure that air tanks and air brakes are dry and serviced for the season.

Get back in good habits … During warmer weather, drivers and fleet maintenance staff get out of the habit of plugging in vehicles, Scare said. “Block heaters are very important, especially on diesel trucks,” he said. “Make it a habit to follow that process throughout the winter months, whether that is a mild or extreme winter.” Jansen said to make sure to test block heaters in advance to verify they’re working properly.

… And break a bad habit. Scare said fleets need to defeat the idea that the solution for diesel engines is to let them idle. “That’s a no-no with today’s technology,” he said. “The particulate filter starts to plug up when it idles for a long time, and it doesn’t have an opportunity to regenerate itself. That requires the vehicle to heat up and burn off that soot and ash.” For fleets that must leave a vehicle running to complete work, remind drivers to step up the RPMs.

Don’t forget the tires. Inspect tire chains before they are put on vehicles, Scare recommended. “Make sure all links are in place and ready for the vehicle, that they fit and drivers are instructed on proper usage.” And make sure drivers are reminded about proper tire inflation, which is particularly important as weather swings from warm to cold.

Develop and implement a year-round maintenance plan. That includes keeping in mind any summer-use-only vehicles that must be prepped for winter storage.

There is a lot to remember in order to properly prepare a utility fleet for the winter. Jansen suggested setting recurring PM schedules “to be based off the calendar. Oil changes are still performed as needed, but our system schedules the PM. While the workload is balanced throughout the year, equipment that is primarily stored outside or equipment that requires additional work to prep for winter is scheduled in the fall.”

Ultimately, he believes that winter preparation is something that occurs throughout the year with a goal of increasing equipment uptime and reducing reactive work in the winter.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


Don’t Forget Another Important Part of Winterizing
Drivers have an important role to play when it comes to winterizing the fleet, but they shouldn’t neglect to prepare themselves for winter, too.

Don Scare, Element Fleet Management’s senior consultant, commercial truck solutions, suggested helping drivers prepare for conditions by making sure they have:

  • Personal wear to handle inclement weather.
  • Supplies, including water, in case they get stuck in the elements.
  • Fresh batteries in flashlights.
  • Tools that can help them get back on the road if they break down.

Renting vs. Buying Heavy Equipment

It’s a common occurrence for utilities and contractors: A piece of heavy equipment is needed, but it’s not immediately available in the fleet, so the project manager rents what’s required. But that may not always be the right strategy – especially when the rental is done outside the fleet manager’s purview.

“I have seen cases where equipment was rented for lengths up to 27 months and turned back in to the rental store,” said Daniel Fitzpatrick, fleet manager for NorthWestern Energy, which provides electricity and natural gas to more than 700,000 customers in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska. “When this happens, you lose any rental credit and the equipment.”

Paul Lauria, president of fleet management consulting firm Mercury Associates (, has seen it too. “One of the problems we see, particularly in utility companies, is they allow business units to rent equipment to fill a temporary need,” he said. “Two years later, the rental unit is still in the fleet and no one has been paying attention. It would have been cheaper to purchase and then dispose of it.”

Granted, haggling over a purchase or evaluating the merits of rental versus ownership may not make sense when thousands of customers are without service. So, while there likely are no hard and fast rules that utilities can develop to address this issue, following some broad principles can help.

“It makes financial sense to own your equipment,” Fitzpatrick said. He tries to purchase any rental equipment at a reduced price when the rental ends, or when money has become available. “Where a buyout is not an option, focus on the interest rate and controlling costs in the short term.”

Fitzpatrick also tries to avoid rentals by moving equipment around as needed, something that may go against an operator’s wishes for “the brand new rental piece when compared to an older, owned unit.” Still, he said, “decisions to rent should always be made on what is in the best interest of the company and customers.”

And that means evaluating costs beyond the equipment’s rental or purchase price, Lauria said. “If it has an annual fixed cost of $10,000 per year and you use it five days per year, the cost per day is $2,000. You may be able to rent it for much less as needed.”

It’s Not All About Cost
Lauria recommends that the rent-versus-purchase conversation evaluate not just costs, but also “your waiting tolerance. If you’re a water utility, you can’t say, ‘We’ll get to that in six hours because we don’t have a loader available.’ That would be unacceptable, obviously. It’s part science, part art and part common sense.”

He recommends that utilities use a chargeback system to “make costs visible. If the fleet is an order-taker and the business unit says, ‘I’d like this bucket truck’ and the fleet orders it, they’ll not be able to make informed decisions.”

And making an informed decision includes factoring in residual value. A purchase and depreciation may still outweigh rental costs, if the item could be sold when it’s no longer needed. “In my experience, a lot of organizations that purchase outright don’t do a good job in managing residual value,” Lauria said. “It doesn’t occur to them to buy it, use it for six months and sell it. Yes, there are depreciation and transactional costs, but it may still be cheaper.”

Another consideration is whether the rental is for a temporary project or an intermittent need. “It’s more common for organizations to rent fleet assets for a temporary need, like a project that is time-limited,” Lauria said. “There’s just one problem: Everyone has the same need for the same equipment in the same season.”

That ties into the most important question to consider: Is the piece of equipment even available? Ultimately, that may be the deciding factor when determining whether to rent or buy. But setting parameters on when and how to make the decision can prevent costly mistakes.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


Making the Most of Rentals
Daniel Fitzpatrick, fleet manager for NorthWestern Energy, has learned to make the most of rentals, often acquiring them when a project is complete. Whenever a piece of equipment is turned in, “the rental store/dealer provides me the make, model, hours, rents paid and buyout price of the equipment,” he said. “This gives me the opportunity to purchase lightly used equipment for our company while maximizing the rents we have already paid.”

But before making a purchase, any rental must meet certain qualifications:
• Is this a model that fits spec?
• Does the utility receive credit toward purchase? The rental payments should reduce purchase price, Fitzpatrick said.
• What interest rate is being charged?
• Is service available and nearby? Fitzpatrick notes this is a “short-term and long-term question. We will need service after we purchase the piece of equipment.”

When rentals meet the fleet’s criteria, it often makes financial sense to purchase the used piece of equipment.


How Easy is it to Hack a Utility Fleet Vehicle?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, hackers may be able to access a vehicle’s systems via a phone or tablet connected to the vehicle by USB or Bluetooth. The vehicle’s diagnostic port is another access point.

But a vehicle’s biggest vulnerability may be behind the wheel. According to a November 2016 blog post published by Promon (see, a Norwegian firm that specializes in app hardening, the company’s researchers demonstrated just how easy it is to trick a Tesla driver into giving a hacker access to the car’s systems. Tesla, like many vehicle manufacturers, offers a remote app that allows the driver to unlock the vehicle. During the experiment, Promon employees:
• Created a free Wi-Fi hotspot.
• Developed an ad for Tesla drivers that offered a free hamburger at a local restaurant if the driver downloaded a particular app.
• Used the app to gain access to the Tesla driver’s username and password.
• Located the car and used the Tesla app – and the previously captured username and password – to access the vehicle.
• Drove away in the Tesla.

Get Ahead of the Curve
When UFP spoke with Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for Nebraska Public Power District, he indicated that cybersecurity in vehicles was not historically a fleet management “care about,” but change is definitely on the horizon.

“The connectivity of our fleet is very limited,” he said, before noting that NPPD uses telematics and GPS intelligence, and that the fleet contains a limited number of new vehicles with Bluetooth capabilities. All of those are potential entry points for hackers and cyberattacks. In 2016, 3.6 million vehicles were recalled to fix cybersecurity issues; that figure is double the number recalled in 2015, according to the NHTSA, and this comes before vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity has really taken off.

“Technology grows and advances so fast that a lot of utilities and fleets are going to find themselves behind the curve,” Gilliland said. “I think it’s going to be a significant concern and will maybe catch a lot of us unaware.”

Tony Candeloro, vice president of product development and client information systems for ARI (, a privately held fleet management company, agreed. “While hacking and cybersecurity may have not been at the forefront in terms of concerns facing fleet managers, it will become increasingly important to have policies and processes in place that help prevent hacking incidents, especially when it comes to vehicles with telematics and other data collection devices,” he said.

Although new vehicles may have more potential hacker entry points, Candeloro noted that any vehicle with an OBD-II port is vulnerable. And as more and more enhancements are introduced, the cybersecurity issues multiply.

“Today’s vehicles are extremely sophisticated computers that are running millions of lines of code – many of which are susceptible to hacking,” said Dennis Straight, chief technical officer at Donlen (, a fleet management solutions provider. “Especially vulnerable are systems accessible from a vehicle’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or entertainment systems.”

Argus Security (, an automotive cybersecurity firm, has identified vehicles they believe to be most susceptible to cyberattacks. The commonality between them? All of the vehicles have weaknesses related to Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi capabilities.

These are particularly susceptible “by either providing a potential attack point or the limited security provided by most infotainment systems,” said Scott Goodwin, senior IT security and compliance administrator for Donlen. “Wi-Fi connections on vehicles are limited by the security available on the hub and the password used to connect to the Wi-Fi. Once connected to the Wi-Fi, the hacker can then attempt access to connected devices, which may provide the ability for data access/manipulation.”

An Appealing Target
Fleets make an especially appealing target due to their size – and the hacking-related possibilities are seemingly endless. Car and Driver ( anticipates that ransomware may prove to be a particular problem. A hacker can use ransomware to gain access to a computer system and hold it hostage until the hacking victim pays a sum of money. Using ransomware, hackers have the ability to do anything from locking drivers in or out of their vehicles to freezing a vehicle’s ignition.

In many ways, preventing cybersecurity issues in vehicles is much the same as protecting a laptop from hackers. It takes a combination of technology development, government intervention, good corporate policy – and savvy users.

“The current telematic devices we use for utility fleets only provide outbound communications, which prevents hackers from sending requests for data or updates to the vehicle,” Goodwin said.

Candeloro stressed that it is vital to keep all software up to date. “Fleets should also train their employees on how to spot security threats,” he said. “It is incredibly common for hackers to try to trick people into installing malware by sending fake – but very convincing – emails recommending phony software updates or other reasons that compel them to click links or download things that are dangerous.”

And know who has access to the vehicles’ computer systems, including that ODB-II port, Candeloro continued. Fleets should have “a clear policy regarding technology within your fleet and train employees on that policy and on what to look for in terms of possible cyberthreats,” he said.

For now, serious hacking threats haven’t materialized in vehicles, but that is likely to change. “As computers and technology are given more power within the vehicle, the opportunity for those systems to be manipulated also expands,” Candeloro said. “Fleet managers should stay alert to the kinds of technology being deployed within their fleet.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


3 Ergonomic Upfits to Combat Work-Related Injuries

When Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois Company, explored the reasons behind his group’s work-related injuries, one issue kept coming up: getting in and out of a vehicle or piece of equipment.

“We’ve had many issues over time related to getting to the back of a bed, a bucket or aerial device,” he said. He also noted that recent vehicle changes have resulted in chassis being taller, “which causes ergonomic challenges for loading, moving and working.”

Complicating matters is the fact that his workers can choose the size ladder they prefer, but Remmert is expected to standardize the fleet’s trucks, including ladder racks. “We use some of the fold-down products on the market, but they just never seem to fit everybody.”

While combatting injuries caused by stepping out of or lifting materials from vehicles is a growing problem for utilities, there are several ergonomically friendly products now on the market that can help prevent some of the most common injuries. Here are three that may benefit your fleet operators.

1. Liftgates with ergonomic features.
It’s no secret to utility fleet workers that getting in and out of a vehicle can cause injuries. Maybe a worker steps off incorrectly and twists something, or constant repetitive motion results in long-term injuries. Add in heavy equipment that must be wrestled out of the back of the vehicle, and the odds of back injuries increase.

But there are solutions available. “We’ve seen ease of use and dependability increase greatly with ramps and liftgates,” said Spero Skarlatos, manager of truck excellence for Element Fleet Management (

He noted that some liftgates now have a cantilever design that allows a platform as wide as the van itself. Some of those are hinged to the vehicle’s rear doors so they easily swing out. “Liftgates and ramps relieve the driver of having to physically lift a box so they can use a cart instead,” Skarlatos said.

Maxon Lift ( makes nothing but liftgates and is constantly innovating to meet customer needs. An interlocking handrail on the liftgate is one recent enhancement. That was developed in conjunction with Smithfield, a large meat packer.

“While it’s not a utility fleet, the concerns are the same,” said Anton Griessner, Maxon’s vice president of marketing and business development. “It’s about the safe handling of loads and avoiding having the operator lifting heavy things.”

Of course, the liftgate itself can bring its own challenges, with the worker trying to maneuver the heavy gate into position, often from the ground. Maxon’s latest solution allows the worker to raise the lift about halfway up so that it can then be folded in.

“When you manipulate the liftgate, you can do it at an angle, which is as efficient and ergonomic as possible and at the level that offers the best leverage,” Griessner said.

2. Shelving that puts needed materials in reach.
Skarlatos said that vans and pickup trucks now include a cabinet with multiple shelves that are accessible from the ground level outside the vehicle. It’s akin to a catering operation; vehicles used for that purpose typically contain multiple racks that slide in and out. In the utility fleet environment, the shelves can store tools and products that the driver uses regularly. “Instead of accessing the back of the van, the trays keep the driver outside the vehicle, standing on both feet,” Skarlatos said.

3. New vehicle styles.
While it’s not an upfit per se, one of the biggest current industry trends is changes in vehicles themselves, according to Skarlatos. Euro-design vans are a game changer because they offer easier access and prevent drivers from crouching while in the back of a van. “You can stand up from the driver’s seat, walk into the back of the van and then step out the rear doors by using the step bumpers,” Skarlatos said. “This has been an evolution of the vans to help with ergonomics.”

And when the shelves that put needed materials in reach are included, this eliminates the need for the driver to get back inside the vehicle. “Anytime you limit the times that you’re stepping in or stepping down, reaching and pulling, we’re increasing the driver’s quality of life at work,” Skarlatos said.

Of course, no two fleet needs are the same, even within the utility industry. That’s why working with suppliers is critical. “You have to really explain what you do and how you do it,” Griessner said. “And there still can be a big difference between what the fleet and safety managers try to achieve and what the operators do. Out of this trust in a vendor can come a very good end product.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


Ergonomics Issues Can Be Costly
OSHA issued ergonomics mandates in the early 2000s, which were subsequently voided by Congress. Nonetheless, there are common-sense reasons to pay attention to ergonomics in utility fleets. For instance, in 2011 – the most recent year for which statistics are available – workers’ compensation paid out $29.6 billion in medical bills and another $30.3 billion in lost wages, according to the Social Security Administration. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
• Musculoskeletal disorders – the broad term for sprains and strains from overexertion – accounted for three in 10 of the total work-related injuries in 2015.
• The average loss of work for a musculoskeletal disorder was 12 days in 2015. That compares with an average of eight days for all injuries that resulted in days off work.
• Falls, slips and trips were the second-largest category of work-related injuries, at 27 percent.
• Workers aged 45-54 had the highest number of missed days due to work-related injuries.


3-Point Checklist for Spec’ing the Right Backhoe

A backhoe is not likely to be the asset most often purchased for a utility company’s fleet. For example, Duke Energy – which has more than 15,000 fleet assets – “may only purchase three or four a year,” said Chris Jolly, Duke’s director of regional operations for Carolinas West.

That means a purchaser may not be as familiar with the required specs for a backhoe as he or she may be with, say, the specs for a standard pickup truck used by the utility.

But it is just as important to get the specs right, said Eric Zieser, NAFTA product manager for backhoes at CASE Construction Equipment. “Buyers really do need to understand their entire fleet and how a backhoe plays into it. By under-specifying a machine, you may actually be creating more work and cost for yourself in the future by having to bring in/rent/transport additional equipment to do the job.”

So, when spec’ing the next backhoe for your fleet, keep these three points in mind.

1. Know what you need.
At Duke Energy, an acquisition team works closely with crews in the field, despite having a corporate agreement with one manufacturer for a standard backhoe, according to Jolly. Even with that standard equipment, there are options.

“Listen to your customers and work closely with the manufacturer. They’ve got the history of what the product can do,” Jolly said.

And skip the idea that a bigger engine or greater dig depth is always the answer. Zieser points out that large backhoes provide greater digging depth and power, but their size may limit their access to worksites. In addition, wide tracks may provide more stability yet may be more difficult to transport. “That’s why it’s so important for backhoe buyers to understand their application – and how that backhoe fits into the overall flow of their fleet,” Zieser said.

2. Consider more than price.
While price is certainly an important consideration, utility also must be factored into the equation when spec’ing a backhoe. “Not understanding how that backhoe will be utilized and optimizing the asset to its greatest potential can be even more costly,” Zieser said.

He points to the option of auxiliary hydraulics as an example. “By not adding greater auxiliary hydraulic options to a backhoe, will you now have to bring in other machines to operate certain attachments and perform certain tasks?”

Even with the standard backhoe configuration, Duke Energy permits an integrated tool package to be added, which allows the bucket to be changed out for forks. “It makes the unit a little more versatile,” Jolly said.

Warranty, preventive maintenance and ongoing upkeep also must be considered during the spec’ing process, Zieser said. “Each manufacturer has its own warranty and conditions. It’s important to understand that, and to understand how the local dealer representative works with you to carry out the terms of that warranty.”

In terms of maintenance, Zieser points to CASE’s SiteWatch telematics, which monitors equipment performance and tracks engine hours to ensure maintenance is done on time.

3. Enhance safety features and operator comfort.
Clearly, utility fleet managers have a number of items to consider when spec’ing backhoes, and operator comfort is one that cannot be forgotten. At Duke, Jolly said that could include allowing some modifications based on operator desires. Florida backhoe operators may want an open cab with a fan while those in the Midwest may prefer a closed cab.

Safety also is important, and Duke is always on the lookout for new enhancements. Jolly said manufacturers are open to input about safety features that utility fleets would like to see, such as the inclusion of ladders on the side of bulldozers, which is something Duke discussed with Caterpillar. “Now we can spec and order that,” Jolly said.

Ultimately, an important key to a strong backhoe spec may be reaching out to other utility fleet professionals, Jolly said. “Don’t hesitate to call on other utilities to ask what our experience has been and how things are working for us. We’re open to share that type of information to help others out.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


Key Questions to Ask
Eric Zieser, NAFTA product manager for backhoes for CASE Construction Equipment, suggests that fleet managers ask the following questions in order to select the best backhoe for their operation.

1. How will the backhoe be transported? Your current trailer may determine the backhoe size – or bring the added costs of buying a new trailer.

2. What is the anticipated digging depth? Zieser recommends going beyond your average operating conditions to ensure you can tackle typical jobs that come your way.

3. What types of auxiliary hydraulics are needed? “If you are running multiple attachments, a combination hydraulics setup is ideal, as owners can then switch back and forth between unidirectional and bidirectional, as needed,” Zieser said.


Best Practices for Winterizing Your Fleet

A 70-inch snowfall in Buffalo, N.Y. A polar vortex. An ice storm in the South. The last few winters certainly have been memorable, and this coming season looks to be more of the same. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center ( is forecasting below-normal temperatures for much of the U.S., with some locations experiencing more precipitation than average.

While this may be good news for skiers and those who like to build snowmen, it can wreak havoc for utility fleets – those pressed to keep services operating no matter the weather.

“When you’re in our business, the power has to be on 24/7,” said Michael Donahue, manager of transportation and construction equipment for Omaha Public Power District ( “The crews and vehicles and equipment have to be ready to respond for normal maintenance and when there is an emergency.”

Given that the average high temperature in Omaha, Neb., hovers around the freezing mark during the winter months, winterizing the utility’s fleet is a given. Historically, the OPPD fleet maintained its 1,000 licensed vehicles and 300 pieces of construction equipment by issuing preventive maintenance orders each September 1. “But what that did was put 1,000 PMs due on our list,” Donahue explained. Now the fleet garage incorporates winterization into the normal maintenance schedule. “It eases up on the guys in the shop and the crews, too,” he said.

In Nova Scotia, another region that is typically frozen during the winter, preparation is key – and it starts at the most basic levels.

“As we approach the winter season, an email is sent out to the line supervisors to check and make sure all outlets are working where trucks are to have their block heaters plugged into,” said Allan Bates, fleet garage supervisor at Nova Scotia Power ( Supervisors also are reminded to ensure adequate supplies of fuel conditioner and winter washer fluid are available, he said.

Keeping the fleet ready for response means block heaters are installed on all trucks and winter tires are changed out before they are worn down to 5/32 of an inch, Bates said. Block heaters keep the engine warm and lubricants flowing, and they are especially important for diesel trucks. Research performed by the University of Tennessee found that diesel engines are five times harder to start in zero-degree weather than in 80-degree temperatures.

Here are some other winterization tips from Bates, Donahue and equipment supplier McCann Industries (

Watch out for water, which can freeze in any number of a vehicle’s systems. This means checking washer fluid to ensure it is winter-rated – likely with a higher concentration of alcohol to prevent freezing. It also means changing fuel filters. Bates said Nova Scotia Power schedules that maintenance to occur every two months. A clogged fuel filter can cause moisture buildup. Condensation also can build up inside nearly empty fuel tanks, creating difficulties in starting.

Add fuel conditioner and ensure that it is appropriate for the type of fuel used. This is especially important for ultralow sulfur diesel. Fuel additive manufacturer Enertech Labs ( reports that this type of fuel gels at higher temperatures than other types of diesel and is prone to icing.

Check coolant and antifreeze and adjust frequently. Additionally, switch out wiper blades in favor of those designed for winter conditions.

Check tire inflation often. Tire manufacturer Goodyear ( notes that tire pressure drops 1-2 pounds for every 10-degree decline in temperature. Properly inflated tires also can help with slippery conditions. It is interesting to note that at OPPD, crews no longer carry tire chains. “They didn’t use them very often and when they would take them out, they would be rusty,” Donahue said. Now, storage is built into the utility’s parking facilities and crews can grab chains if they know they will need them.

Plug in block heaters during periods of normal operating temperatures. Block heaters do not provide heating – they maintain temperature.

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


3 Things You May Not Know About Winter Weather

1. While frostbite and hypothermia may be well-known wintertime threats, workers also can encounter other, less severe cold-weather injuries, according to the U.S. Army Public Health Center. Chilblain occurs when skin is exposed to cold or wet conditions. It can be as warm as 50 degrees Fahrenheit and happen in an hour or so. Immersion or trench foot occurs when tissue – especially in the feet – is exposed to cold, wet temperatures for 12 hours or more. Inactivity, wet or damp socks, or tightly laced boots that impair circulation all can speed up onset and severity.

2. More Americans die of causes related to winter weather exposure than to summer heat. The National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says about 2,000 Americans die of weather-related causes each year, and about two-thirds of those are due to exposure to cold. In Canada, about 108 people die annually from the cold, compared to 17 who succumb to heat-related ailments.

3. Canada ties Russia as the coldest nation on earth, with an average daily annual temperature of -5.6 degrees Celsius, according to “Canadian Geographic Biggest and Best of Canada: 1000 Facts & Figures.” That equates to about 22 degrees Fahrenheit.

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